The Europa World of Learning
Routledge - Taylor and Francis Group
HomeAdvanced SearchCountriesInstitutionsSubjectsHelp


Introductory Survey
The Higher Education System
The higher education system consists of two parallel systems, universities and ammattiakorkeakoulut (AMKs—polytechnics or, as they are sometimes termed in English, universities of applied sciences): universities focus on academic teaching and research, while polytechnics specialize in professional and vocational training. The structure of the degree system is the same in both sectors. There are 14 universities and 24 polytechnics. The oldest university is the Kuvataideakatemia (Academy of Fine Arts), which was founded in 1848. In 2015 a total of 157,436 students were enrolled within universities (which numbered 16 in 2014) and 139,727 were enrolled within polytechnics (which numbered 26 in 2015).
All universities are state-owned and are administered by the Ministry of Education and Culture’s Department for Higher Education and Science Policy. University-level education is currently free but students may be required to pay for extraneous services, such as health care and compulsory membership of the Student’s Union. Under the 1997 Universities Act, universities are obliged to promote free research and provide free education. However, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development suggested in 2010 that students be charged tuition fees as part of a number of reforms to help Finland out of economic recession. Other suggestions include replacing grants with repayable loans and speeding up the admissions system by standardizing university entrance requirements. Universities have enjoyed relative autonomy in decision-making, based on three-year performance agreements with the Ministry of Education and Culture. Government funding used to account for about 64% of university budgets, with the rest coming from the Academy of Finland, the Technology Development Centre Tekes, business enterprises, the European Union (EU) and other public bodies. The amended Universities Act of July 2009 (which came into effect in January 2010) further extended the autonomy of universities by giving them an independent legal personality, either as a public corporation or as a foundation under private law, with university staff no longer being employed by the state. The Government would continue to provide core funding (in the form of monthly payments to be managed by the universities themselves), with the universities responsible for acquiring additional finance. In addition, the new legislation required at least 40% of university board members to be appointed from outside the universities and ruled that university rectors, who had previously been elected by the professors, other staff and students, would in future be appointed by the board. Furthermore, the amended Act saw the creation of the new Aalto University through a merger between three existing institutions (further mergers were envisaged in the near future), and, controversially, permitted universities to charge tuition fees for students from outside the EU and European Economic Area (EEA). Tuition fees for non-EU/EEA students were to be introduced from the beginning of the 2017/18 academic year. Individual institutions would be free to set their own fees, but the Government has mandated a minimum annual fee of 1,500 euros.
The current polytechnic system was established during the 1990s to create a non-university higher education sector and was in place by 2000. The polytechnics were founded through mergers of institutions that had previously provided higher vocational training and, in contrast to the government-funded and -controlled university sector, AMKs are municipal or private institutions authorized by the Government. Funding of public polytechnics is shared between central government and local government, although they may also have other sources of external funding. Polytechnics follow three-year performance agreements made with the Ministry of Education and Culture.
Admission to both universities and polytechnics is on the basis of completed secondary education and entrance examinations. University admission is subject to the Universities Decree (115/1998), while admission to polytechnics is governed by the Polytechnic Studies Act (351/2003). In 2005 a two-tier Bachelors and Masters degree system was formally introduced in both universities and polytechnics, in accordance with the Bologna Process (although a two-tier system had been in place since 1993). The traditional Finnish credit system was replaced with the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) in 2005. The university Bachelors degree lasts for three years and students must accrue 180 ECTS credits; the university Masters degree is a two-year course following completion of the Bachelors and requiring at least 120 ECTS credits. The polytechnic Bachelors requires 180–240 ECTS credits over three-and-a-half to four years, and the polytechnic Masters 60–90 ECTS credits in one to one-and-a-half years. (Admission to the polytechnic Masters requires a polytechnic Bachelors and at least three years’ professional experience.) In dentistry and medicine the old-style degree system remains in place. In these subject areas the first degree is the Lisensiaatti or Licentiate, which requires 300–360 ECTS credits and takes five to six years. Students who have received the Masters may take the Tohtori or Doctorate, which lasts at least four years. In certain subjects, particularly the sciences, the Bachelors gives direct access to doctoral programmes. Students of medicine and dentistry can begin their doctoral studies directly after completion of the Lisensiaatti/Licentiate.
The entire Finnish system of vocational education and training was reformed in the late 1990s. In addition to the technical and vocational education offered by polytechnics, there is also an apprenticeship scheme combining workplace and classroom learning. In 2014 a total of 321,736 students were enrolled within vocational and professional institutions, of which there were 275 in 2010.
The Finnish Higher Education Evaluation Council (FINHEEC), which operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Education and Culture, is responsible for carrying out audits of the quality assurance systems of the country’s higher education institutions. The audits are performed on a registration basis. The quality systems of all higher education institutions were audited during 2005–12. A second round of auditing was underway in 2016 and was scheduled to be completed in 2018.

back to top